First Drive – 2014 Highlander Hybrid, the Quadruple-Threat SUV

by Sommer Thornton and Daryl Payne
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The redesigned 2014 Toyota Highlander has a cool new hybrid companion that saves a ton of fuel. The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid not only offers an impressive EPA of 28 mpg combined, its efficient hybrid technology matched with its Dynamic Stability Control and its plethora of safety features puts it in competition with lux and turbo SUVs like the Lexus GX, the Infiniti QX70, and even the Ford Expedition. With a $47k MSRP, my expectations were high; yet the Highlander Hybrid exceeded them with its stylish new design, multifunctional interior, and impressive performance. The Highlander Hybrid left a lasting impression as one of my favorite mid-size SUVs under $50k.

We reviewed the 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum AWD edition. This SUV is a tour de force of resilient design, efficient powertrain and a highly functional lux interior.



Stylish Tough Exterior

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The new Highlander Hybrid stunts at first sight with its long wheelbase and stout stance. The mid-size limited edition models sits on 19 inch alloy wheels. The 2014 Highlander Hybrid also has a lower roofline for improved aerodynamics along with sculptured side door panels.

The Highlander Hybrid Limited also has standard LED daytime running lights and projector-beam smoked chrome accent headlights. Along with special blue hybrid badges, new Highlander Hybrid has a cool trapezoidal grille that seems a little smaller, but gives the wraparound headlights more coverage. The new Highlander also has a cool moonroof, chromtec roof rails, and a programmable power liftgate.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The steel-body Highlander Hybrid has high-strength steel front pillars repositioned for expanded front visibility. The rear quarter glass has also been expanded for a wider view. Noise reduction is achieved with acoustic type glass, a sound moonroof, and silencing insulation. Vibration is minimized with enhanced body sealing and the strategic placement of three hydraulic engine mounts.

The wide body Highlander’s new design has hints of sport, with family friendly character. Aerodynamic enhancements to the Highlander Hybrid Limited include the chiseled fenders and rear spoiler. Even the taillights are sculpted to help the Highlander slice through high speed winds and reduce drag.



Spacious Tech-Enhanced Interior

No doubt the new Highlander Hybrid is one of the most spacious mid-size SUVs out. And the interior boasts premium functionality for 7 or 8 passengers. Standard the Highlander Hybrid Limited boasts perforated leather trimmed front and second row seats – heated and ventilated, with SoftTex 60/40 split-fold flat third row seats that slide and recline. The two-tone leather interior features soft-touch upper door trim with a subtle wood grain accent and satin chrome door handles.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid interior
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid interior

The front row of the Highlander Hybrid Limited edition has an impressive 44 inches of legroom. While the 2nd row has 38 inches of legroom and the 3rd row a measly 26.7 inch of legroom. But the Highlander Hybrid makes up for the tiny 3rd row with its stuntastic panoramic moonroof and available rear entertainment system.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The 2014 Highlander Hybrid also has three-zone climate control with an air filter and tons of storage space. There’s the 24.5 liter center console with utility tray and there are shelves on each side of the front seats and a fold down tray for the second row captain’s seats.

The dash and controls are positioned in a stylish functional design scheme. Along with gauges, the driver’s dash has a 4.2 inch LCD multi info display (MID) that shows turn-by-turn navigation, eco monitor, warnings, telephone, and cruise control settings. The MID can also display helpful information like the compass, speed limit, and audio info, with configurable lighting, language and unit settings. The leather trimmed heated steering wheel has controls for voice command, cruise control, and audio.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid in-dash shelf
2014 Highlander Hybrid in-dash shelf

I like the in-dash shelf that I could put keys, my phone, or even a book on. It’s a simple innovation that saves space, yet makes the dash area more functional and less distracting. The in-dash shelf also has a cell phone plug-in easy pass. Also cool is the blue ambient lighting that illuminates the dash area, again making it less distracting.

Also cool is the 8 inch touchscreen with satellite radio, navigation, HD backup camera, and navigation with AppSuite. Standard is Entune with Premium JBL audio system, weather, and real-time traffic info. The 8 inch touchscreen even shows predictive traffic with a map and traffic event list. There are 3 map modes available. I also like the split-screen view that displays navigation alongside audio and other settings.

The Highlander Hybrid also has three 12-volt auxiliary power outlets and a 120-volt AC power outlet. The 2nd row has standard retractable sunshades. A rear seat Blu-ray player is available with a 9 inch display screen, RCA jacks and 2 wireless headphones.


Hybrid Powertrain a Beastly Competitor

The 2014 Highlander Hybrid is as spacious as a Navigator, rides like an Impala, and has the efficiency of a Prius. Not only was this big-body fun to drive, it didn’t take much to fill up. The 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum boasts a 3.5 liter V6 engine with an electric motor that powers the wheels. The DOHC engine has variable valve timing and electronic fuel injection.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Highlander Hybrid Limited has a total output of 280 horsepower and 215 lb-ft of torque. The Highlander is already athletic on the road but with an EPA of 27 mpg in the city, the driver feels invincible.

The Hybrid Synergy Drive System includes an Eco mode and EV mode that operates the SUV exclusively with the electric motor when idle or cruising at low speeds. Regenerative Braking stores energy when braking saving a ton of fuel. And Smart Stop technology works in tandem with regenerative braking to help reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

The 3.5 liter V6 is matched to 6 speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with manual sequential shifting. The Highlander Hybrid Limited handled great in city driving and whipping on the highway thanks to Dynamic Torque Control All-Wheel drive. Dynamic Torque Control AWD adjust torque delivery to the rear wheels based on sensor data like throttle angle, speed, and steering angle. As a result, the Highlander can switch from FWD to AWD and back when needed. The MID displays the torque distribution settings.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid interior steering wheel
2014 Highlander Hybrid interior steering wheel

An innovative high-speed interactive management system collaborates the Dynamic Torque Control, Vehicle Stability Control and Electric Power Steering systems to enhance the Highlander performance, handling, and safety. The Highlander’s Hybrid’s performance impressed me at every turn. Steering is fluid and responsive with electric power steering. Accelerating is seamless with the electronically controlled transmission.

Independent MacPherson strut front suspension and rear double wishbone rear suspension make the Highlander Hybrid agile and resilient in any and every road condition. The 2014 Highlander Hybrid has 4-wheel disc brakes that stop the SUV on a dime. Even parking in tight spots was on-point with the electronically controlled braking and the rear park assist sonar. The Highlander Hybrid also has a 3,700 lb. tow capacity.


Advanced Safety Technology

Along with Toyota’s Star Safety System that includes electronically controlled braking, the Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM), traction control, Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, and Smart Stop Technology, the Highlander boast new innovative safety tech. Standard is Hill Start Assist Control, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and the rear parking assist sonar.

2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

The Highlander Hybrid Limited includes the Driver Technology package with the Limited editions that adds Safety Connect; Automatic Collision Notification, Emergency Assistance, roadside assistance, and stolen vehicle notification. Also included is the Pre-Collision system that features Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, automatic high beam headlights, and the Lane Departure Warning system.

The quadruple-threat Highlander Hybrid boasts a stylish design, premium tech-advanced interior, dynamic performance, and class-leading efficiency. The 2014 Highlander Hybrid Limited Platinum edition offers much of what SUV and mini-van fans are looking for. This left fans saying that this would be at the top of their list when shopping for their big-body SUV.

Check out more photos from behind the scenes of our review of the Toyota Highlander on our Facebook Page!